How high jewellery cashed in on Cannes as the film festival became a fashion stage

The big brands are now using the annual event to promote new collections and get their latest designs seen on the red carpet

Gigi Hadid dons elaborate jewellery on the Cannes red carpet in 2023. Getty Images
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The scene is set. Superyachts are anchored in the bay, movie moguls are arriving on their private jets and the grand hotels of Cannes are fully booked with Hollywood stars. The red carpet has been rolled out from La Croisette to the Palais des Festivals for this year’s international film festival.

Beginning this week and running until May 25, the French seaside town is awash with glitz and glamour as Hollywood's elite sweeps into town for arguably the most important red carpet moment of the film industry calendar.

It’s not only the silver-screen darlings who will bring sparkle to the Cote d’Azur but the entourage of luxury fashion, jewellery and beauty brands who follow in their wake. They will be hosting suites in the Carlton and Hotel Martinez or at their boutiques across town for celebrities and clients attending the festival.

While the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Met Gala fill news pages and generate a huge volume of social media posts, they are merely one-night spectacles. Cannes Film Festival runs for 10 days, providing ample opportunity for luxury brands to don Hollywood celebrities in haute couture garments and sumptuous jewels for the world’s paparazzi to capture.

Association with the magic of cinema can elevates the brands on display. In 1957, Elizabeth Taylor donned a vintage diamond tiara at Cannes. It was a significant moment, but it was the arrival of Chopard in 1998 that tightened the bond between jewellery and cinema.

“I knew our relationship would blossom into something beautiful,” recalls Caroline Scheufele, co-president and artistic director of Chopard. “It is one of the most glamorous cultural events in the world and is the perfect showcase for our maison.”

With the French Riviera backdrop and its reputation as a playground for the rich and the beautiful, “where better than Cannes to display this one-of-a- kind jewellery?” she asks.

Chopard only began creating high jewellery collections because of its partnership with Cannes, when Scheufele realised that elegant gowns needed show-stopping jewels. The Swiss jewellery brand also handcrafts the legendary 18K gold Palme d’Or award, the most prestigious gong presented at Cannes.

In 2022, Scheufele’s annual Red Carpet Collection paid tribute to the eternal cinematic glamour with an offering dedicated to some of her favourite actors and films, including Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Last year, the theme was art – celebrating seven forms, including architecture, painting, music and literature, through precious gemstones.

Presented at a gala dinner and subsequently paraded by celebrities heading to the film premieres, Chopard is the only brand to create collections specifically for the festival. A piece of jewellery “is not meant to be displayed in a window,” Scheufele says. “Jewellery and extraordinary gemstones come alive when they are worn.

“A beautiful creation worn by an iconic actress will always enhance its aura,” she adds, citing memorable moments, including Marion Cotillard wearing one of Chopard’s first Green Carpet Collection pieces, crafted from sustainably sourced gold and Zambian emeralds, in 2013.

“I also have a favourite memory of Julia Roberts wearing a Chopard emerald necklace and ring for her Cannes debut in 2016. She was barefoot on the red carpet and said at the time, ‘With jewels like this, I don’t need shoes.’”

In 2021, model Bella Hadid similarly caused a stir in Chopard earrings paired with a revealing Schiaparelli dress with gilded brass details mimicking human lungs. A wave of response reverberated through social media, proving invaluable for the brand in its pursuit of increased visibility.

Last year, the film festival generated $37.3 million in media impact value, according to media analytics company Launchmetrics. The figure is measured by AI-powered algorithms across print and social media and the cost of advertising.

Bulgari generated $9 million MIV, and Messika, which arrived at the festival in 2013, $7.4 million. This makes a presence at film festivals unmissable for jewellery houses, with Cartier, Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Damiani all dressing celebrities across the 10 days.

“Having extended exposure always helps,” says Alison Bringe, chief executive of Launchmetrics. She highlights the importance of choosing the right personality to represent both your brand and global trends.

“To cut through the noise in today’s market, brands need to consider a diverse voice mix, which not only embodies their unique ethos, but also shapes cultural conversations.”

Aside from A-list Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Lawrence dressed by Dior and Salma Hayek by Gucci, more brand ambassadors from emerging markets have been leveraged by jewellery houses recently to open doors in those regions as well as establish a strong international profile.

“Last year, Chopard leveraged faces such as [Indian actress] Anushka Sharma, K-pop band Aespa and [Lebanese-Tunisian actress] Nadine Nassib Njeim to skyrocket their brand performance at the festival,” says Bringe.

In 2023, Valeerie Messika, founder and creative director of the eponymous diamond brand, walked the Cannes red carpet with Lebanese singer Maya Diab, who was wearing one of Messika’s spectacular high jewellery diamond necklaces. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Laila Abdullah and Gigi Hadid have similarly been drawn to the avant-garde flair of Messika for their red carpet appearances.

“Cannes is very close to my heart and the Maison’s DNA,” says Messika. “It is the most prestigious film festival in the world, and getting to see personalities from the film industry and beyond adorned in Messika jewellery is an achievement by itself.”

She also says that seeing Messika jewellery worn on the red carpet “is very appealing to our audiences”. Beyond the media buzz of the red carpet, the festival offers an exclusive platform for jewellery and fashion maisons to nurture relationships with clients and friends who descend on the French Riviera in their superyachts and luxurious villas for the season.

However, the luxury houses are hesitant to discuss the extent to which celebrity placement influences the interest of their VIP clients. Some are not enthusiastic about seeing pieces they have chosen at a private preview later worn by celebrities, preferring a degree of discretion.

The film festival, with all its glamour, inspires a level of aspiration among clients who follow the events on social media rather than attending as VIP guests. While a large emerald necklace may be beyond their reach, there are other more accessible pieces in a brand’s repertoire.

Living up to its hedonistic reputation, Cannes Film Festival sees stars and their jewellers arriving for the event, strolling down the red carpet and attending beach parties, photocalls and yacht soirées adorned in borrowed jewels. Armed French police and security guards will be on high alert, as the last thing any brand wants is for a million-dollar necklace to fall into the wrong hands.

Borrowing such a jewel carries significant responsibility. According to the internet rumour mill, an unnamed celebrity borrowed a diamond necklace to wear to a premiere several years ago, with an agreement to return it immediately post-event.

However, unbeknown to the jewellery brand, the actress requested that the driver and security guard take her several miles away to Naomi Campbell’s birthday party on a beach near Saint Tropez, where she danced the night away on the sand.

Fortunately, the necklace was returned intact to the brand the following morning, but that was the last time the actress was trusted with any gems.

The 2024 Cannes Film Festival runs at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres until May 24

Updated: May 16, 2024, 4:01 AM